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I Knit Around

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Knitting Olympics, Day 16: Lessons Learned

Kiri detail, unblocked
Detail look at Kiri, unblocked

1. If time matters, then so does gauge.

When I chose to knit Kiri and tried to get an idea of how big to make her, I based my assumptions on the original designer's own Kiri, using the same number of rows and repeats as she did. The error? Her shawl used a DK-weight yarn and size 7 needles, mine uses laceweight and size 1. As I've said before, that's a dumber than rookie mistake. But I made it because, well, it's a shawl. My thinking was that gauge doesn't much matter, since I'll just keep going until it's big enough.

But since I was knitting this for the Olympics, I had a deadline. I should have paid more attention to the gauge, and realized that to make a shawl of reasonable size at my gauge would be impossible in the time allotted. I set myself up for failure by not realizing that how much I was going to have to knit mattered enough to check my gauge and do the math.

The Lesson: If you have a deadline, check your gauge, and calculate how much you'll actually be knitting to complete the project. Even for projects where gauge doesn't normally matter.

2. Your hands always matter, and have priority over everything else. Don't wait until you feel the pain to take action - the damage has already happened.

I knit flat out on Kiri for the first week, especially after figuring out my gauge mistake. With no outside job, no kids, and no pets demanding my attention, I had hours a day to devote to my Olympic competition - and I did just that.

My hands seemed fine. Until a few days after I dropped out of the competition and started working on other projects. The lightweight, small gauge needles and shawl hadn't posed a strain, but apparently the constant repetitive motion did. And it was one that wasn't apparent until I did some work on heavy-gauge projects, like a shawl in Homespun yarn on size 11 needles.

Adding the extra weight highlighted the stress that I had put on my hands the previous week - stress that happened almost invisibly to me while I knit rabidly with laceweight on size 1's. The day after completing the size 11 shawl, my hands felt thick, clumsy, and a little numb when I tried to knit. Since then, I've had to take a knitting break, allowing only the shortest of sessions with lightweight projects. I've been wearing Thera-Gloves frequently to support the aching hands, and trying to limit computer time, since mousing aggravates the same areas.

The Lesson: Take care of your hands - they are your one irreplaceable and indispensable artist's tool. Take frequent breaks. Learn some stretches and exercises for your hands. Alternate between knitting sessions and activities that use the hands in a different way. And if you feel pain, STOP!

3. Goals are more important than deadlines.

I was able to make peace with the decision to drop out of the Olympic competition by recognizing that, even if I wouldn't be finishing in the gold, I'd attained what I wanted from the effort. I had started a Kiri shawl with my own Kool-Aid dyed yarn. That was my goal when I joined, and I actually did achieve it.

So, even though Kiri is only 37% done, I consider my Olympic try to be a success. (I am no longer in Gold contention, though, because my declared competition at the official list was to complete a Kiri shawl.)

The Lesson: Know what is essential about any project, and recognize what your personal conditions for "success" are. Don't let some outside force decide that for you - you are the person who must determine if you derived satisfaction from the work you have created.

4. If deadlines must happen, they must be met realistically.

It is essential for any knitter who has accepted a deadline to be realistic about it. A beginning knitter who decides that they must knit a lace shawl for their sister's wedding in two months may be taking on a bit too much. Perhaps a lace handkerchief for the bride to carry would be more possible. Just found out a long-lost friend is having a baby - next week? Unless you're a super-speedy knitter, a full baby blanket may be unlikely - how about booties instead? Or a cute bonnet?

The Lesson: Know your skills and limitations, and choose projects accordingly. Success comes from a good match of skill level, project size, and time available.


Would I do something like the Olympics again? I'm not sure. I didn't like the knitting to a deadline aspect, not when the deadline was so short. But maybe, with the lessons I've learned this time, I'll do a better job of evaluating what would make a realistic challenge. Setting a more appropriate challenge level will keep me from feeling the ticking of the clock as intensely as I did this time.

Do I regret having tried the Olympics? Not a bit! Yes, I experienced stress and strain that I would prefer to have avoided. But as witnessed above, I have also learned a good deal about myself as a knitter, and about how to plan appropriately for projects. The minor strains to the hands will repair themselves with proper care, and the lessons, hopefully, will stick, and help me avoid problems in the future.

And at the end of the day, anything you come away from with no permanent damage, and a better understanding of your world, is a good thing.

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